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Mark Doyle reports from Abidjan
"At first most people here couldn't believe what was happening"
 real 28k

Friday, 24 December, 1999, 12:27 GMT
Analysis: Ivory Coast's stability shattered

Abidjan skyline Economic strength has accompanied decades of peace

In the notoriously unstable region of West Africa, Ivory Coast has always been a rare oasis of peace and prosperity.

Where coups have become a way of political life in nearby countries like Nigeria and Libera, Ivory Coast has never suffered a violent change of government since gaining independence from France in 1960.

Ivory Coast economy
Exports cocoa, coffee, palm oil
GDP per capita $1,680
31% of GDP from agriculture
Growth rate 6%
Thirty years of one-party rule by founding President Felix Houphouet-Boigny prompted student demonstrations in 1990, calling for multi-party rule.

But elections that year saw Mr Houphouet-Boigny returned to power with a vast majority.

When Mr Houphouet-Boigny died in 1993, he was succeeded by Henri Konan Bedie.

The 1995 elections were marked by the worst violence in the country's history. Some of Mr Bedie's opponents boycotted the election amid accusations that the electoral rules had been rigged in favour of the government.

But the army has previously been well-disciplined, and this week's mutiny and attempted coup have been greeted with amazement both in Ivory Coast and abroad.

Western ally

Ivory Coast is regarded by Western powers - particularly by France and the United States - as an important regional ally.

Ivory Coast history
Independence from France
Felix Houphouet-Boigny becomes president
First multi-party elections
Houphouet-Boigny re-elected
Henri Konan Bedie becomes president
Violence as Bedie opponents boycott election
Unrest surrounds Alessane Outtara's presidential bid
Its stability has been built on one of the stronger economies in the region.

Ivory Coast is the world's largest exporter of cocoa beans - the main ingredient in chocolate - and is also a major exporter of palm oil and coffee.

GDP per capita was estimated at $1,680 last year, along with a healthy 6% growth rate.

By contrast, the corresponding figures for Nigeria were only $960 and 1.6%.

Though industrialised by African standards, the Ivorian economy is still heavily dependent on agriculture and subject to fluctuations in world commodity prices.

A slump in the price of cocoa has caused serious economic difficulties recently, and cocoa farmers protested about the hardships they have been experiencing.

Political protests

The country has also been troubled by violent political protests, surrounding former Prime Minister Allessane Ouattara's attempt to run in next year's scheduled presidential elections.

The government has disallowed Mr Ouattara's candidature, saying he had not provided adequate proof of Ivorian citizenship.

Mr Ouattara's supporters see this as an underhand attempt to keep the challenger out of the presidential race.

Political tensions have been high since several officials from Mr Ouattara's party were jailed following the protests.

On the eve of the rebellion, President Henri Konan Bedie made an address to the nation in which he made no concessions to Mr Ouattara.

But Mr Ouattara is a career businessman and civil servant, not a military man and has been outside the country for the past few months to avoid arrest on charges of forging documents.

At present, there is nothing to suggest that the rebellion against President Bedie has any direct connection with the dispute involving Mr Ouattara.

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See also:
24 Dec 99 |  Africa
Battle for control in Ivory Coast
12 Nov 99 |  Africa
Ivory Coast opposition leaders jailed
08 Dec 99 |  Africa
Ivory Coast pursues opposition leader
17 Sep 99 |  Africa
Political crisis rocks Ivory Coast
01 Jul 99 |  Africa
Africa threatens chocolate fight

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